On Monday morning 6 August, Rhodes University students and staff gathered in their numbers outside the Drama Department, otherwise known as Purple Square. This followed a call the previous night by the university’s Student Representative Council (SRC) for an academic shutdown following the tragic death of student Khensani Maseko. Maseko reportedly committed suicide in her Johannesburg home on Friday, 3 August.
Maseko’s death has been linked to an incident in May this year when Maseko was allegedly raped by her boyfriend. Her most recent social media post before her passing read “NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED”, with a photograph of her birth date and subsequent death date.
Maseko was a third-year BA student at Rhodes University, as well as a former SRC representative, and active member of the EFF Student Command. Her death comes during a time of mourning and protest for women across the country during Women’s Month.
Since 2016, Rhodes University students and staff have remained proactive in their fight against gender-based violence and rape culture on campus. In the aftermath of the harrowing #RUReferenceList protests of 2016, a university task team was formed to combat sexual violence on campus. The team consisted of both students and staff. They compiled formal suggestions for upper management to further consider and implement.
However, students are questioning when the implementation of these suggestions will happen.
Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela addressed the crowd earlier Monday morning outside the main administration building. “This is a very sad day in the life of the university,” he said. “I have lowered the flag to half mast.”
He later announced that all academic activity was suspended through Tuesday, 7 August.Tuesday’s academic programme was to be replaced with a commemoration for Maseko, and discussions surrounding gender-based violence.
Tuesday morning, dark clouds loomed over Grahamstown (Makhanda) as students and staff gathered in tearful memory of Maseko.
Rain began to pour from the dark skies overhead as SRC President Nhlakanipho Mahlangu led the crowd in solemn singing in preparation to march to Settlers Monument. The march symbolised where Maseko would have ended her journey at Rhodes.
Mabizela addressed the crowd at Monument. “We as a society have failed Khensani, and many other young women like her.” He added that this was a result of failing to teach men to respect women.“Khensani did not deserve to die under the circumstances which she did.”
“To the brothers here, you need to do better. We need to do better,” emphasised Dingaan Booi, a member of the university’s Independent Electoral Board. “It cannot be that she dies in vain.”
Students continued to share stories and poems of their experiences with gender-based violence, and fond memories of Maseko.
Grocott’s Mail offers sincere condolences to the Maseko family, and Khensani’s friends.